Early Guitars and Vihuela

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Tablature editors... which one do you use for baroque guitar?

There are excellent commercial music notation packages. Some are even able to handle tablature. But since electric guitarists outnumber us by at least two orders of magnitude, most programs tend to focus on that market.

There are many free and low cost editors for historic tablature. Most of them can do a very decent work for many kinds of lute and vihuela. However, when it comes to Baroque guitar, there are many features which would be nice. Alfabeto chords, little marks showing which way you should strum your chords... a better way to mix rasgueado and punteado... well you know what I mean.

What is your experience with each editor? Do you have any tips to share with us?

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What software do you use, Juan?

I use Finale. I used it for years creating scores for my ensembles before it even offered tablature capabilities, so I have been a bit tied to that software. However, it is cumbersome and can be very slow (in my experience) in setting tablature. (David van Oijen also uses finale.)

What I like is the absolute control I can have over practically every detail of setting music (notes and tab). And what Finale doesn't let me easily do, I have often been able to work-around by creating custom fonts (graphic design is my main profession) to allow me to do certain things. For example, the up and down strumming directions in my Valdambrini was a problem that I got around my making some new characters in a font. I then quickly entered them as Lyrics. I have not set alfabeto (preferring to spell out those chords), but Finale could handle it (although the manual will not be able to tell you how -- it is indeed geared toward modern guitar). On staff notes for strumming would also be possible. Finale lets me control the spacing of entries in a measure and line breaks. It seems that some other programs don't allow to move that very last extra measure up one line. I can also add staff notation. To repeat, almost everything is possible in Finale but not always easy, intuitive, or quick -- it can be frustratingly tedious. But I am fairly happy with the final results.

I have only had minimal experience with Sibelius and did some font tweaking for Pat O'Brein to address some of the tab shortcomings he saw. I was surprised at how little control I could have with that program (and I think I looked in all the places possible). I do not think I would be happy with that program.

Being a Mac user I cannot speak to the more popular tablature software available to Windows users, but will be interested to read what others say.

I'm not sure that there are enough similarities between any of the software to make tips valid across programs and platforms. Perhaps a starting point might be just to work on developing a more critical eye and thinking about music typesetting. What makes one score (modern or ancient) more attractive than another? Is a tab font choice appropriate for the period of the music? (Typography styles change like any other art.) Would a different font have more distinctive forms for tablature? (Unlike normal text setting where consistent shapes aid reading, in tablature shapes that are too similar can be a hindrance -- is that a c or an e, b or an h?)

I think baroque guitar tab is about as complicated as tab can get and it will be a challenge for any software and software designer or musician who aspires to set it well.
I use Django (Windows emulator on an Intel Mac). The latest version has improved the strumming signs (was a bizarre wavy line, now a nice arrow). Alfabeto can be easily added. It's what I used for the files I uploaded that I worked on myself. I still struggle with finding the best font that is both readable and doesn't bunch into the symbols above and below it. I own Sibelius, but haven't had the time to attack the steep learning curve (I mostly use it to edit existing files).
I've used the trial versions of both Fronimo and Django. Fronimo seems great for lute tablature. When it comes to other instruments, I don't know how to make a melody line in another color as used in vihuela tablatures or how to add lyrics... maybe it is my limited knowledge of the program, maybe it is just not intended to do that. I do not know if it is possible to add Alfabeto to Fronimo files.

Django was able to mix alfabeto and chords just fine. However, the trial version will not allow you to print so you really can't tell if the printed version will be as good as the one on screen.

For most of my printing I have used abc2tab. AS anything that used to be text based, it is not easy, but it does most of the things I need. Neither alfabeto nor different colors, though.

Wayne Cripps tab was another alternative. However, the manual is no longer on line and I do not know if it can include Alfabeto, strumming signs...

Well the other programs are just too electric-guitar oriented for my taste.
Power tab may be able to handle some of this, and if you can hook up with the editor, I think the program is open source, so they may be able to upgrade it for Baroque guitar, and Vihoela
another possibility: TuxGuitar. However, it looks like an Open Source alternative to Guitar Pro. I'll try it and get back to this page with my opinion.
Hi Juan,

I use Sibelius on my PC and find that I can make it produce virtually anything I want in baroque guitar tablature or for lute, cittern or any instrument. It will even allow me to use the type fonts of Fronimo and Django if I want to, and the results can be beautiful. Alfabeto and all the many signs are no problem. It all works well for solo music. However, one thing Sibelius can't do is to allow me to combine tablature with staff notation in a score when I use traditional French rhythm signs (without note heads) where, historically, one flag equals the value of a half note, two flags equal a quarter note, and so on. Sibelius insists that one flag is an eighth note! Fronimo lets you assign different note values to flags, but I find Fronimo (and Django) far too limiting in other ways (you can't beam flags into sensible rhythmic groupings, for example).

Is there a program that can do all that Sibelius can, plus overcome this one difficulty? Does anyone know how to overcome this tablature and staff score problem in Sibelius itself?
How about pen and paper, then scan? Thats how I do it, with RED for the base notes. I think its faster, not as forgiving of course.
That's the real thing... pen and paper. And usually, it is way faster. However, some of us have ugly handwriting and we all want to read from clear and beautiful pages of music.

My Christmas list of tablature programs,it would include:

1. beautiful fonts that look like real handwritting, particularly for French tab
1a. beautiful fonts that look like printed pages, too.
2. More control on spacing. Not everything evenly spaced, but more like "musically spaced"...
3. Spanish, Italian, French and German tabs in a variety of historic and new fonts.
4. Alfabeto and strum signs

Fronimo is almost perfect; it is missing only the baroque guitar -specific parts.

I wish I could get a program that would give me everything I have for standard notation in Lilypond and all I have in Fronimo for tab PLUS baroque guitar specifics... that would be perfect.
Yes, handwriting is the easiest and fastest way, and that's the way I've copied tablature for the last 50 years. But my needs are professional and handwriting won't do for publishers. I've tried almost all computer programs and I still find that for solo music, Sibelius can do all the things on Juan's Christmas list. But I want it to do more.

I am publishing, for Indiana University Press, a Guide to Playing the Baroque Guitar and the publisher likes what I say but they think my handwriting looks too amateurish to print. They are, however delighted with the solo pieces I've supplied them on Sibelius, but I will have to give up the idea of including some ensemble scores with historical French rhythm signs combined with staff notation.
I frequently enter rhythm signs as lyrics in Finale. If you can also hide rhythm signs above your tablature in Sibelius, perhaps this workaround would work for you. I happen to use a custom font that I created for the purpose.
Thanks for the tip, Rocky. I'll experiment. No problem hiding things on Sibelius. It is important for me to be able to beam the rhythm signs in the manner of, say Phalese or English lute manuscripts. Does your font on lyrics cover this?
I find it is often necessary to find workarounds in order to get these notation programs to produce what I want. But the results can be quite good.

My font is one workaround, but does not allow beaming -- for beams, I believe you have to let Finale (or Sibelius) do the drawing. A couple of other ideas come to mind, though, that may work for you.

Option 1: Print the tab part separately.
Personally, I would rather have a tab part without the other parts if it saved me page turns. The guitar part could possibly be given in staff transcription (which might benefit the other instruments).

Option 2: Import guitar tab as a graphic -- Sibelius will import import TIFF graphics (Finale will also import EPS and PICT formats).
Create your score and adjust the page layout with final system breaks to your liking (don’t worry about the tab rhythm values at this point). Save the file with a descriptive name -- perhaps “Granata_mvt1_base score” before the file extension. Do a “Save as” with a name for your final guitar tab -- perhaps “Granata_mvt1_tab”.
In that new tab file, change the meter to create the rhythm values you want. Watch that the measure lines stay in the same location. Hide the meter (which will not be the same as the instruments). Export the pages as TIFF files (at a high resolution).
Open the pages in an image editor such as Photoshop and trim each guitar system and name them with at least a system number.
Return to your base document and import each tab system and position below the instrument parts. Not knowing how Sibelius works, you may be able to place the TIFF image over the existing tab, or you may have to delete the existing guitar part.

Option 3: Let your publisher or designer combine the graphic elements.
Using the basic concept of Option 2 -- creating two documents with “different” meters -- your designer may be able to combine the staff and tab notations for you. They may prefer EPS files and could combine in their page layout program. If there are slight shifts in the alignment between the two versions (staff and tab) adjustments could be made in a program like Photoshop.

Option 4: Add extra beams in an image editor.
It might also be possible to add extra beams in a program like Photoshop.


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